There are holiday customs that may have lost their meaning, traditions passed down generation after generation, ones we accept without question. Now, especially around this ever-expanding Christmas season with all its commercial hype, could be a good time to consider what is important to hold onto and what can we let go.
Recently, I took a bold step. I spoke to my two sons and told them, “Although you and your kids have my love and support always, I am eliminating the usual tradition of doing holiday gift-giving.” The sigh I heard on the other end of the phone could have been dismay, but I think it was one of relief.
My family consists of my two sons and four teenage grandkids. They all live far away, and, like most parents of grown children, I wish this were not so. I remember other holidays when we would gather, the children were young, and it was a pleasure to watch them being delighted as they opened all their many gifts.
Until recently, I had always bought into the practice of showing my love in a materialistic sort of way. The nicer the gifts, the more they would know how much I loved them. I would start early, deciding what would be the perfect things for each one of the six. I shopped, I wrapped, I put them in a box, mailed them out so they would get them before the special day.
I wanted to feel the joy of gift-giving. But in recent years, the giving, and sometimes the receiving, of nonessential gifts, became in all honesty more a chore than a pleasure. We were now ordering the items online, and having Barnes & Noble or Amazon do the wrapping and the mailing out, saving us time and effort. It all started to feel empty and impersonal.
Some of my waning enthusiasm also came from a lack of acknowledgment. The custom of thanking a gift-giver seems to be fading with each generation. I remember as a child dutifully writing notes on my special stationery, thanking each family member who sent holiday or birthday gifts. I didn’t even need a reminder; it’s what you did. Later, as a parent, I asked (you could say nagged) my sons to write their grandparents, aunts and uncles a letter each time to show their appreciation.
It has been, sadly, a rare occasion when one of my four grandkids responded to my gifts sent by mail. Year after year, I felt disappointed that there were no “thank yous” forthcoming, not even a phone call. Although I thought that behavior very inconsiderate, I would console myself: “Everyone is busy with activities, and I understand adolescents are mostly self-absorbed.” But still, I was annoyed.
I realize I have to accept that the sending out of thank-you notes is, at least in my family, a thing of the past, a broken tradition. But I do wonder if it is the evolving technology contributing to this lack of meaningful communication. A few words sent in a text does not satisfy the need to hear, at least, a voice behind the words.
Only the future will reveal whether the generations coming up are able to maintain intimate, ongoing relationships, since time and effort, patience, and face-to-face communications are called for.
For now, my value system dictates I stop buying into the overinflated materialism of the season. Instead, I choose to create a new tradition of sending gifts to my family throughout the year, whenever my generous spirit calls me to do so.
As an alternative, I will be donating to my charity of choice the money I would normally spend on unnecessary holiday gifts. I believe this contribution will help to make a positive impact on someone’s life, and that is what brings me joy; no thank you necessary.
Angelena Craig of Newburyport teaches Wellness Workshops, Kripalu Slow Flow Yoga, and “Sit Down and Move” classes to boomers and beyond. Visit her website at www.thenewagingmovement.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.